The truth about the Dark Tetrad
‘Come over to the Dark Side…’Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Sadism.
At least one of these terms will be familiar to us. Whether we have heard in the media, in a book or even feel like we may have met somebody who embodies these qualities.
But what do these terms actually mean?
Almost twenty years ago, Paulhus and Williams (2002) coined the term ‘Dark Triad’ to refer to a constellation of three socially offensive personality variables; Psychopathy, Narcissim and Machiavellianism. Everyday sadism has been added to the Triad (Buckels, Jones, & Paulhus, 2013), resulting in the creation of the Dark Tetrad. As a result, many negative personality traits, or ‘dark traits’ have become increasingly prominent concepts in related fields beyond psychology, such as criminology (e.g., Flexon, Meldrum, Young, & Lehmann, 2016) with researchers using this umbrella term to account for ethically, socially and morally questionable behaviour.
Research on the Dark Tetrad has been hampered by the fact that no four-factor measure has yet been published (Paulhus, 2020) however, here is what research tells us about the components of the Dark Tetrad.
This article is purely for educational purposes and is not designed for self- diagnosis. If you recognise any of these signs in yourself or somebody you know and need to access any support, then get in touch with us at My Family Psychology and see what we can do to help you.
What is Psychopathy?
Hare’s (2003) Factor 1 of Psychopathy was characterized by lack of guilt and empathy, shallow affect, glibness, failure to accept responsibility, manipulativeness, grandiosity, conning, lying), represents the shared characteristic of these traits (Paulhus, 2020).
By 2008, Hare and Neumann (2008) distinguished four dimensions of psychopathy:
- Interpersonal (superficial charm, grandiose self-worth, pathological deception, and manipulative)
- Affective (lack of remorse and empathy, shallow affect)
- Antisocial conduct (poor behavioural control, criminal versatility, and juvenile delinquency),
- Lifestyle (stimulation seeking, impulsivity, and irresponsibility)
As psychopathy has peaked interest over the last few decades, the more researchers have wanted to explore the traits associated with it and how people can tell who is a psychopath. Patrick et al. (2009), proposed another structure which encompasses three distinct phenotypic constructs: boldness, meanness, and disinhibition.
When we think of boldness, it represents interpersonal dominance, fearlessness, high self-confidence, and risk taking. Meanness represents callousness, lack of empathy, deliberate cruelty, shallow emotionality, and exploitativeness; disinhibition represents general problems with impulse control, poor self-regulation and failure in delaying gratification (Brislin et al. 2015; Patrick et al. 2009).
Studies have shown that individuals lacking in empathy, specifically violent offenders, display generally reduced automatic physiological arousal when confronted with distress-inducing cues (Pfabigan et al., 2015). Furthermore, psychopathy has been associated with extreme antisocial behaviours, violence, higher rates of incarceration, and increased likelihood of committing crimes (Anton, Baskin-Sommers, Vitale, Curtin, & Newman, 2012).
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism has been a term thrown around quite a lot and remains to be a hot topic, especially in the modern day era of social media and online dating. It is also term which appears to have many definitions; some narcissists will chose to be overt (and not shy away from that fact) or covert (will tend to hide behind a façade of charisma).
Unlike Psychopathy, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is diagnosable. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) is questionnaire designed by Raskin and Hall (1979), which was meant to reflect the DSM-III (APA 1980) narcissistic personality disorder diagnostic criteria.
A model put forward by Ackerman et al.’s (2011) assumes the existence of the following:
- Adaptive abilities such as Leadership/Authority (self-perceived leadership abilities)
- Maladaptive traits such as Grandiose Exhibitionism, self-absorption, vanity and exhibitionistic tendencies.
- Entitlement/Exploitiveness – entitled beliefs and manipulative behaviours) aspects of narcissism.
Behavioural traits associated with narcissism include a noticeable emphasis on one’s self in interactions with others, a distinct lack of empathy concerning the plight of others, extreme sensitivity often resulting in rage, manipulation with no consideration of cost, and a lack of ability to see reality as others see it (Thomas, 2010).
What is Machiavellianism?
Unlike narcissism and psychopathy, Machiavellianism does not have a clinical equivalent in either the DSM or ICD classifications. The trait Machiavellianism was named after Niccolò Machiavelli, who was a diplomatic senior official in Florentine Republic who wrote the book (Il Principe) in which he described how to be an effective ruler no matter at the cost (Rogoza, 2008)
The structure of Machiavellianism is somewhat unclear; however some of the traits include:
- A cynical worldview (view of the negative world and view of people)
- Manipulative and persuasive tactics.
- Lack of empathy
- Agentic motives,
- Self-enhancement (Christie and Geis 1970; Fehr et al. 1992; Jones and Paulhus 2009);
- Self – interest (self-promoting and self-protecting)
- Impulse control
- Low levels of remorse
- Emotional detachment
- Antisocial tendencies
- Dominance and need for power.
Manipulation is one of the core elements of a Machiavellian personality power and individuals with high Machiavellianism are perceived as more intelligent and attractive by their peers, even when those perceptions are not reflective of real differences (Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006).
What is Sadism?
The term was coined by the late 19th-century German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing in reference to an 18th-century French nobleman called the Marquis de Sade, who chronicled his own such practice by experiencing pleasure by inflicting pain on others.
In some cases the aggressive impulse becomes predominant and the sadist progresses to more extreme expressions of his violent tendencies. In the criminal psychology, sadism may be a factor in some violent crimes, particularly rape and murder. However, it was every day sadism which was added to form the ‘Dark Tetrad’.
Already widely used, there are stand-alone measures which have been shown to predict instances of everyday sadism, including:
- Enjoyment of violent video games (Greitemeyer & Sagio-glou, 2017)
- Internet trolling (Buckels, Trapnell, Andjelovic, &Paulhus,2019; Buckels, Trapnell & Paulhus,2014),
- Fascination with weapons (Gonzalez & Greitemeyer,2018)
- Cyberstalking (Smoker & March,2017)
- Internet bullying(Kircaburun, Jonason, & Griffiths,2018),
- Revenge (Chester&DeWall,2018),
- Toxic leadership (Spain, Harms, & Wood,2016)
- Negative impressions (Rogers, Le, Buckels, Kim, &Biesanz,2018),
- Mourning style (Lee,2019)
- Sexual violence(Russell &King,2016),
- Sadistic behaviour in the labora-tory (Buckels et al.,2013; Chester, DeWall, & Enjaian,2019 (cited in Paulhus, 2020)
Sadism has been defined as cognitions and behaviours associated with pleasure from inflicting physical or emotional pain on another person (Porter & Woodworth, 2006).
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